Friday, the hearing continues in Salem Superior Court. It is a hearing on a motion to suppress statements in the murder case of Philip Chism (hereinafter, the “Defendant”). The Defendant has been charged with the rape and murder of Danvers teacher Colleen Ritzer.
The hearing began last week and we began discussing the matter in terms of Constitutional Rights, Miranda and the making of statements to law enforcement while in custody.
The defendant is claiming that both he and his mother attempted to invoke is right to counsel and that, under the circumstances, law enforcement did not adhere to their duty to comply. As a result, the defense claims that any statements he made where in voluntary and so should not be able to be used by the Commonwealth at trial.
Last Friday, the Commonwealth began putting up it’s police witnesses to testify about their interaction with the defendant and his mother. Basically, They allege that when the first officer came into contact with the defendant, that officer was merely interested in him because he had been reported missing. He claimed that he had no idea of the killing At that time. Shortly thereafter, another officer entered the scene. The Defendant apparently made statements indicating that he may have been involved in a theft. Between that statement and the fact that the defendant was acting oddly, the officers asked him to empty his pockets “for their own safety”.
This led to the discovery of the bloody blade allegedly used in the murder.
These factors led to the Defendant being brought to one police station and then another. During this time, the defendant made various statements and, at some point, was read his Miranda rights. Police officers also reached out to the Defendant’s mother in hopes to get her to help get a statement from the 14-year-old Defendant.
The hearing was continued as the mother was described as making various statements which caused even more suspicion to be cast on her son.
Attorney Sam’s Take On “Custody”
“Hey, Sam, if the police did not read the Defendant his Miranda rights when they took him into custody, doesn’t the case get dismissed?”
No. This is a common misunderstanding. The Miranda rights only really come into play when a statement is made by a suspect. If the Commonwealth wants to use the statement at trial, then it has to show that the statement was not coerced by the police. Step one in that evaluation is whether the suspect was given his or her Miranda rights.
Depending on the case, though, the potential for suppression goes much further. For example, if a suspect makes a statement and the court determines that that statement was not voluntary, then anything that the statement leads to directly also has to be suppressed.
In the Defendant’s case, he ended up making a statement that his victim was in the woods. The police went to the woods and foundthe body. Let’s assume for the moment that the court finds that the police would not have inevitably found the body without the statement anyway. Then, most likely, the statement and discovery of the body would be suppressed. In this case, of course, it is more likely that the body would have been discovered, so the argument is a bit weaker. However, if the Defendant added that he has narcotics in his bedroom, and that statement is found to be involuntary, the statement and the drugs will likely be suppressed.
However, there is an important concept here which many people overlook. In order for the police to have to give Miranda rights and for the statements to be seen as involuntary, the suspect has to be in “custody”.
This is the issue whereat most of the battle in suppression hearings focus.
“What do you mean? If the police grab you, then you are in custody, right?”
Well, not to be Clinton-esqe, but it depends what you mean by “grab”.
As I mentioned above, this hearing will continue this coming Friday. Let’s use the descriptions made at the hearing to illustrate this point and how complicated it can be. We will continue the subject matter after said testimony.
In the meantime, you may want to check out the blog-posts in the below-listed links to review the testimony given last Friday.
For the original stories upon this blog was based, please go to http://www.boston.com/news/education/2015/01/09/lawyer-teen-coerced-into-confessing-teacher-murder/zbb8h0E4Y2YOoUDRZ1LsUP/story.html and http://www.salemnews.com/news/live-blog-motion-to-suppress-hearing-in-chism-murder-case/article_ba99ec72-9823-11e4-9b09-dbba6015eb81.html